The Defenders have the best home crowd in the XFL
February 23, 2023 / By Brayden Nazarian
Recapping my experience at the Defenders' home opener on February 19th.
Before anything else, I'm a football fan.
I attended my first game when I was just one year old, and in the 23 years of my life since then, I've seen a fair share of great gameday atmospheres.
I saw Sean Taylor and the Washington Redskins (Commanders) take on Brett Favre and the Green Bay Packers at legendary Lambeau Field. I've been in the student section for a number of University of South Carolina football games, including a few against their biggest SEC rivals. I've also seen a handful of elimination games for the Washington Capitals in the Stanley Cup Playoffs (and they've lost every time I'm in the building).
To this point, nothing--and I mean nothing--has compared to the atmosphere at Audi Field during the D.C. Defenders' home opener last Sunday.
D.C. is still a football town
Over the last three decades, Washington, D.C. sports teams have continually come up short. Sure, the Nationals and Capitals have each won a championship--the Caps in 2018 and the Nats in 2019--but a D.C. sports team hasn't had a dominant run since the Redskins in the 80s and early 90s. Although success has been mostly absent since then, the passion from the fans remains evergreen.
During the XFL's five-game run back in 2020, the D.C. Defenders were one of the league's best teams. Not only were they winning games, but they won in exciting fashion. They eventually fizzled out--just like the XFL did--and lost a few games before the league stopped its operation. However, those Defenders home games had some of the most electric atmospheres I've ever seen, much like the atmosphere last Sunday.
The crowd stayed intense throughout the whole game. When the Defenders made a positive play, the stadium erupted and became hard to calm down. If the crowd didn't agree with something, they'd boo for minutes on end. You would've thought it was a sold out playoff game based on how loud it was, but that's just how it is when D.C. fans get going.
I walked around Audi Field hoping to talk with fans about their connections to the Defenders. The first guy I spoke with was wearing a Kamren Curl Commanders jersey. He drove nearly two hours from Harford County, Maryland to watch the Defenders live for the first time. Another guy I talked to came up from southern Virginia, and another drove down from Pennsylvania. Each one of them more rowdy and excited than the one before. They were all Commanders fans, but they all said they were happier cheering for the Defenders.
The Beer Snake's sour return
One of the best things about the return of the XFL is the return of the legendary beer snake at Audi Field. It was the talk of the league in 2020 and it's still one of the best gameday traditions in all of sports. You'd think it would be well-received by the team and stadium staff, right? Well, I guess not, because stadium security began dismantling and confiscating the beer snake when it started to get big. (Luckily, I was seated on the opposite end of the stadium, otherwise I would've been throwing hands with security guards for trying to take my contribution away.)
As you'd expect, fans weren't happy. After a number of "we want beer snake" chants broke out, some fans revolted by throwing lemons onto the field. (Concessions were selling vodka lemonades with FULL lemons in them.) At one point, I counted over 20 lemons in the end zone below me, and eventually the officials had to stop the game for player safety. When they realized they couldn't do anything about it, the game continued and lemons rained down. I've never seen anything like it.
Like most other fans, I'll be back
It was truly an incredible experience being at that Defenders game. I got to see my team win a close game, while pounding miller lite tall boys, surrounded by some of the best fans in the country. Can't really beat that. I know I'll be back.
All images courtesy of the D.C. Defenders